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North Dakota Road Maps


Many an older North Dakota driver may recall a glove compartment filled with maps advertising their local gas stations. These were gradually replaced by more colorful and fact-filled Official State Highway maps, and most recently by electronic versions. But in the early 1920s, as the automobile gained popularity and motorists began traveling greater distances, few road maps were available. Railroad maps depicted the locations of the communities across the state and indicated the distances, but getting from point A to point B by car was often ill-defined and hazardous. The Good Roads Association created maps showing the routes of major trails, such as the Red Trail, and these major highways were also well marked by signs along the route to guide the adventurer, but few of the county roads were mapped. Once off of the major trails, it was “traveler beware,” for few roads were maintained, and many served a single purpose, leading to a dead end.

The Federal Aid to Highway Acts of 1916 and 1921 provided the incentives for the State Highway Commission to establish a system of roads using federal funds. Plans were conceived to develop not only the major highways through the state, but also the farm-to-market roads. These arteries were necessary for commerce and also for rural postal delivery – connecting the mainly rural population.

As the system of roads developed, maps were created to show the progress of the construction and to help plan for future projects. In 1923 the State Highway Commission implemented a uniform system of numbering and of marking each road, and the following year they released the first Map of the Trunk Highway System of the State of North Dakota. Not only were the roads detailed, but the map showed whether they were paved, graveled, lightly graveled, graded or unimproved. Designed by the McGill-Warner Company of St. Paul, over 7,000 copies were printed that first year.

But on this date in 1924, it was announced that one enterprising North Dakota business saw an additional use for these maps. Contacting the publisher, the Pegg Motor Company of Valley City requested that a smaller version of the map be published allowing for the display of the company name, a photograph of their building, and a listing of the services they provided. It was the first business in the state to take advantage of map advertising, beginning a trend that was gratefully appreciated by North Dakota motorists who, over time, filled their glove compartments with these free handouts.

Dakota Datebook written by Jim Davis


The Sargent County News July 24, 1924

History of the North Dakota State Highway Department by Robert Carlson and Larry Sprunk, 1966, State Highway Department, Bismarck, North Dakota

The Bismarck Tribune January 17, 1922